Watermelon Growing Tips
How to Grow Sweet, Tasty Watermelons
Watermelon and the summer go together, as who doesn't want to sink their teeth into a sweet-tasting, ripened melon on a hot day; especially if you cool it before taking your first bite out of it. By far the best season to grow them in is the summer, and is really the only season it can be done successfully because of the length of time most watermelons take to mature.
Normal watermelon weight ranges from only a few pounds all the way up to pushing 100 pounds. Shapes are mostly oblong and round.
It is a member of what is called the Cucurbitaceae family, which refers to vining plants growing along the ground. Included in that family are pumpkin, cantaloupe and squash, among others.
You can grow watermelon almost anywhere, but they thrive in warmer temperatures and lengthy growing seasons of the south. In the north, best practices is to grow from transplants or use a variety that ripens early.
When to Plant Watermelon
Almost everything related to successfully growing watermelons includes heat, and that's no different when deciding on when to plant your watermelon.
Wait until all danger of frost has gone and the soil has started to warm up. Planting earlier usually won't help much as the seed still waits for the proper temperature to arrive to send up its shoots. Helping it along with plastic is one way to circumvent that weakness, as it'll raise the temperature of the soil.
Floating row covers are another way to help them get an earlier head start.
How to Plant Watermelon
With its lengthy vine watermelon requires a lot of space to grow. So seed should be planted about an inch deep and spaced about six feet apart, with a range of seven to ten feet between rows.
There are two ways to plant watermelon. Plant them in hills, which means placing a group of seeds together, or sowing transplants.
With hills, the idea is to wait for the seeds to emerge and the plants to start growing. As they establish themselves, leave the best three plants there and remove the rest.
For transplanting individual watermelon seedlings, space them about three feet apart, or a little less if you choose. You could also do double transplants, which you would keep about five feet apart in the rows.
If you don't have much in the way of good soil, you would get better results if you mulched some raised rows and planted them.
I've had good results with other types of fruit and vegetables using a similar technique.
A Word on Watermelon Transplants
While you can grow decent watermelons via transplants, they will usually result in a poorer specimen than those grown from seeds directly planted in the ground. That's not to say it's not worth it, as it definitely is if that's your chosen method.
Starting seeds indoors about three weeks before you're going to set them out is best. Similar to outside hilling, plant two or three seeds in each pot or cell pack space you have and thin them out to the best watermelons before transplanting them.
Another tip is to not start them any earlier, as when comparing transplants against themselves, the smaller transplants do far better than larger transplants, which struggle even more.
If you're growing watermelon transplants indoors, the best temperature range for the transplants would be in a range of 80 and 85°F. Again, watermelon and warm weather go together, including in regard to transplants.
For seedless watermelon, which are far more expensive, keep the sowing to one per container. Because they're more expensive and have less successful germination rates, seedless watermelon, contrary to its counterparts, would probably be best done via transplanting, which should increase the germination rate.
How to Grow Watermelon and Succeed
Watermelon Planting Strategy for Seedless Varieties
Seedless watermelons are sterile, which means they won't pollinate because of the lack of fertile pollen.
With the inability to pollinate itself, seedless melon varieties must be planted with regular watermelons in order to produce fruit. It's recommended that you plant a completely different shape or color watermelon with the seedless so when it comes time to harvest them, you'll know which is which.
Don't be afraid that the pollination process will affect the seedless melon, as they've been developed to respond by producing seedless fruit.
Plant your regular watermelon - which will do the pollinating - at least every third plant, or if you want to be sure, every other plant won't hurt. In other words, have one or two seedless melon plants between each regular melon plant.
With a long growing season and vining structure, the watermelon plant can be challenging to weed because of its size and vines, which can eventually get in the way, making weeding difficult.
Many of those growing watermelons will place plastic in larger, open areas to control the weeds. This is especially true in areas with shorter season, where the black plastic has the secondary benefit of warming the soil. Shallow hoeing is still required closer to the plant.
As for watering, surprisingly the watermelon doesn't need as much as one would think, as the deep roots of the plant can tap into water pretty far down.
Many growers never even have to water the plants once they're established. If there is an unusually long period of hot, dry weather, you may have to do a little supplemental watering.
This is one area where those inexperienced with growing watermelons fail. They assume because of the watery interior of a watermelon that it needs a lot of water. In fact, some harm their watermelons by watering too much.
Cucumber beetles are known to be predators of watermelon plants. You can either used the appropriate insecticide to combat it, or row covers used early in the growing season will help manage the pest.
If you use floating row covers, that will definitely help, but you must remove them once the plants begin to bloom.
How to tell if a watermelon is ripe
So when is it time to harvest this luscious plant? How do you know when it's ripe?
It's really easy. But let's get rid of the myth first: you can't tell whether a watermelon is ripe or not by thumping on it. That sound so many are convinced identify it as ripe, could in fact be an indication that is it too ripe.
There are four ways to identify whether or not a watermelon is ripe:
- The color of the watermelon will be dull, not shiny.
- When you look at the bottom of a melon touching the ground, it has turned yellowish in color, not the former light green it used to be.
- Those curly, light green parts near the stem where it almost is attached to the watermelon, normally will turn brown and dry out.
- If you try to poke your fingernail into the watermelon, you will find the skin has toughened up and is hard to penetrate.
Most of these traits together will indicate a watermelon is ripe and ready for picking.
If you have to choose one, the most viable would be how the color of bottom of the watermelon looks where it was laying on the ground, as described above.
Watermelon stops ripening once you remove it from the vine, so be sure using these tips as a guideline before doing so.
From the moment a watermelon is picked, it can last for a couple of weeks at a room temperature that ranges from close to 45 to 50°.
Surprisingly probably for some, watermelons that haven't been cut don't store as well in the refrigerator.
It's best to wait until it's close to the time you're going to eat it before chilling it in the refrigerator.
Cut watermelon pieces, if they're wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator, should last for up to three days.
Watermelons are one of the culinary delights of summer, and the wide range of variety and color now associated with them make them a great addition to any summer barbecue, as well as adding some unique color if you grow some of those types.
Other than hoeing, there is very little else to do for maintaining the plants, with the exception of a very hot period. If you mulch them, it's even easier.
But even if it was hard, these sugary, summer treats make it worth every bit of the work it requires to eat and be refreshed by the chilled, tasty flesh of the watermelon.